Sunday, October 14, 2007

what reddit taught me about startups: making more money (really??)

WARNING: These are still just the memories of a nostalgic startup cofounder. None of these are to be taken as guides for how to run your own startup. Except for anything involving a mascot -- you really ought to have one.

That said, I bet you didn't even think there'd be any more of these, let alone a sequel to "making money." Well, no one expected a sequel to The Matrix and look how well those turned out...

I was happy my Joel Spolsky shout-out made it into the BusinessWeek article from a couple weeks back. With a simple suggestion, Joel started us down the path that would eventually lead to an acquisition (I knew I should have titled this entry "Joel Spolsky: The reason why reddit got acquired"). He had remarked during a YC dinner (I think) that he was tired of sorting through all the link recommendations he'd get emailed from his readers.

"Create a for me to send them to!" he suggested (probably not an exact quote).

Steve was likely in the middle of some big update or new feature, so it was a couple months before joel.reddit went online and the Joel alien was born.

Hmm, this is neat, we thought, someone actually can use "reddit technology" (I still feels silly typing that) for their own community. Maybe we could make money from this?

This must be very disheartening, reading that so much of our business grew and adapted along with us, but it's true. A few months later I'd be fielding requests from someone wanting to license reddit for traders -- how's that for random?

We made a few more 'subreddits' for our friends and for other interested startups, but didn't give it much more thought until I got an email from Kourosh of CondéNet (spoiler: he is now our boss).

Admittedly, I hadn't heard of Condé Nast, but my phone rang not long after replying and we talked for a bit. He had noticed our white-labeling efforts and wanted us to build him a celebrity gossip version of reddit ( What he wanted to build sounded pretty feasible and he must have liked what he heard, because the conversation ended with an invitation to fly out west and a visit to WIRED (not screaming -- it's kinda like how reddit is always in lowercase, silly style guides).

That licensing deal turned out to be very fruitful for a few reasons. First, it gave us enough capital to live for at least another year (hell, it made us "profitable" -- although that's not saying much when you're just a few guys in an apartment). Second, and more importantly, it opened the door to a relationship with CN that would eventually lead to an acquisition.

Fortunately, the job wasn't even all that difficult. The design was handled entirely by them and Steve single-handedly hacked lipstick together in a less time than it took me to draw a week's worth of logos.

OK, that's not entirely true. He used two hands. Only Mr. XKCD types with one hand.

And thus the courtship dance with Condé began...